Defining Marilyn: Reel Vs Read

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Julia Keller argues that a novel like Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde offers more insight into the real Marilyn than a movie like My Week With Marilyn ever could.

While both these examples may have their merits, neither is a wholly satisfying portrait of Marilyn. Perhaps the closest we’ll ever come to her true essence is not through outside interpretations, but the words and images she created herself.

“The fault lies not in our movie stars, but in ourselves — in, that is, the profoundly complex and endlessly shifting nature of human beings. To capture the richly dynamic essence of any individual requires the only medium that’s up to the challenge:


Sitting in the dark at a recent showing of ‘My Week With Marilyn’, I was struck by the inadequacy of film as a way of conveying the boundless mystery of a real-life personality. A movie can do many things well: It can dish up terrific, gravity-defying action scenes. It can create worlds that never existed and make them uncannily plausible. It can act as a sort of prosthesis for the imagination, supplying spectacular colors and highfalutin visual hocus-pocus.

But what it can’t do — even when it tries its best — is get to the essence of a single human soul’s journey across time.

For that, you need a novel. You need the slow, methodical unfolding of a story. You need the gradual accretion of events — happy ones, tragic ones, mistakes and triumphs and accidents and turning points. A novel can deliver, one by one, the people who move in and out of any life. It can spurn the superficial. It doesn’t have to take anything at face value.”

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